On Sunday, it was one strike and you’re out.
Near the end of Minnesota’s 67-56 win over Louisiana Monroe, when Minnesota desperately needed a comeback after a 51-50 deficit, senior Carlos Morris forgot to rotate on defense and he was pulled, despite that it meant coach Richard Pitino was sending in freshmen in the game in crunch time.
Earlier, sophomore guard Nate Mason didn’t dive for a loose ball. Mason had just made a shot, but it made no difference. He was out.
“I was kind of mad about that but I really couldn’t say nothing,” Mason said Monday. “All I could do was respect it, because he told us that at the beginning of the game.”
Told them to be ready to sit if they didn’t hustle, that is.
With three games against high-major teams in Puerto Rico on the horizon, Pitino didn’t hold back on substitutions in the final non-conference tuneup Sunday, using a plethora of lineups in the victory and, he believes, teaching some lessons in the process.
“This is the first year for the most part where I’ve got depth at every position where if you don’t defend or rebound, we can bring you to the bench,” he said. “I didn’t have that the first two years.
“…You can yell and scream until you’re blue in the face or you can say certain things. The bench is the greatest motivator and I think as long as we stay healthy, we’ve got that a little bit.”
Although Minnesota doesn’t have the most experienced roster, the Gophers do have at least two players at every position. The depth chart Pitino is using now is mostly.
PG: Nate Mason/ Kevin Dorsey; SG Carlos Morris/ Dupree McBrayer; SF Charles Buggs/ Ahmad Gilbert; PF Joey King/ Jordan Murphy; C Bakary Konate/ Gaston Diedhiou.
Mason agreed that riding the pine was an effective method for drilling in just what the coach needs his players to do every possession.
“This year, it’s all about staying on the court,” Mason said. “If you don’t rebound, if you don’t dive for a loose ball, you’re coming out immediately.
“Him putting that in our mind it’s like we have to give it our all. It’s not doing nothing but making us better.”
The Gophers have four freshmen who are getting notable minutes, so there will be plenty of big firsts to come this season. One of them came on Sunday night, when Minnesota attacked a come-from-ahead deficit with two newcomers in the lineup.
One of them, Kevin Dorsey, played a big role in keying the quick turnaround. With the Gophers holding a 56-51 advantage -- having gotten back on top after a brief Louisiana Monroe lead -- Dorsey drilled a three-pointer to push Minnesota up by 8. But after the shot sank, Dorsey looked a little lost, Mason said. He hadn't yet celebrated a huge shot at the collegiate level.
"He didn’t know what to do," Mason said with a chuckle. "So I went over there I was like ‘Yeah Kevin!’ trying to pump him up and he finally realized he hit the shot.
"t was fun to watch those guys just be in the moment and see what that shot could do and be part of the win. At the end of the game, it was obvious that that built confidence for those guys."